The New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel has weighed in against a controversial 10-mile-long transmission line to be built along a New Jersey Transit railroad route, saying the project is no longer needed.
In expert testimony filed with the state Board of Public Utilities on Friday, the office’s consultant argued that changing conditions in the electric sector make the line unnecessary and other steps could be taken to address reliability concerns.
The filing bolsters the case of opponents of the $75 million project, which has stirred widespread opposition among residents in surrounding communities, some of whom had opposed the project when it was first proposed in another form more than two decades ago.
PJM Interconnection, the operator of the nation’s largest power grid, identified the project as necessary for reliability purposes back in 2011. But the rate counsel’s consultant disputed that assessment, suggesting a number of alternatives could also be considered.
The expert, Peter Lanzalotta, argued that numerous other technical approaches to improving reliability were ignored, including distributed generation, a form of localized power sources, and smart grid technologies.
In his filing, the consultant recommended that the BPU defer its review of the project, pending consideration of other alternatives, route costs, and impacts.
In addition, the consultant echoed arguments made by opponents of the project, who have insisted since the undertaking was first identified, peak electricity loads for the company have decreased significantly.
The latest load forecasts by PJM lower the peak load projected in 2031 and 2032, the consultant noted. “Both of these load levels are lower than the load levels discussed above at which the common-cause contingencies were found to cause a need for system reinforcement,’’ the consultant said.
“The need for this project, which was initially determined in 2011, has been diminishing ever since,’’ Lanzalotta said. When the project may be necessary is uncertain, he said. Based on the 2016 load forecast, it does not appear to fall within PJM’s 15-year planning horizon, he added.
JCP&L cited reliability concern in making a case for the 230-kilovolt transmission line, enhancement to substations, and technology upgrades. When it filed the case, JCP&L said it hoped to begin the project by June 2017, with a planned in-service date of June 2019.
The project is the latest of a spate of transmission projects undertaken by the state’s electric utilities, which are under pressure from state and federal regulators to modernize the grid and improve the reliability of their systems.